Big Little Liars

BIG LITTLE LIARS

Jessica Grose

‘My 6-year-old told his acting teacher his parents were dead and he’s home-schooled.’

A lot of parenting questions boil down to: Is this a thing, or is something wrong? We’re doing an occasional series explaining why certain things seem to happen to your kid (or to your body or to your relationships) as your child grows. This week, we’re talking about why children lie. Read previous “Is this a thing?” newsletters here. If you have a question for a future “Is this a thing?” email us.

Q: My 6-year-old told his acting teacher his parents were dead and he’s home-schooled. All lies. Is this a thing?

— Megan Kilb, Charleston, S.C.

A: First, let me congratulate you on your magnificently creative lil’ liar. But to answer your question, yes: This is regular kid behavior, according to the four psychologists I spoke to for this column. Almost all children in all cultures lie by the age of 7.

Neurotypical children develop the cognitive ability to tell lies in preschool. That’s when they establish something called “theory of mind,” which has come up in previous columns — it’s the concept that other people have thoughts that are separate from your own thoughts. To lie, children also need to develop executive function, said Kang Lee, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, which means they have the ability to hold back the truth, and then tell a lie instead.

However, a child is not lying because he is “morally corrupt and will grow up to be a criminal,” Dr. Lee said. He is probably lying for a concrete reason, and the most common motivations are to get out of trouble, to make himself look better or to make someone else feel good (known as a “pro-social lie”), Dr. Lee said. The only time you should be concerned about a child under 7 lying is if it is clustered with other issues, like oppositional, defiant or aggressive behavior, said Victoria Talwar, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal; if you see lying along with those other behaviors, you should seek professional advice.

So, what should you do if your child tells the occasional whopper?

Don’t overreact. “Responding angrily, or even with shock, isn’t the answer,” said Dunya Poltorak, Ph.D., a pediatric medical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Mich. Jumping straight to condemnation or punishment may make your little one lie even more, because he feels guilty — and is afraid of you.

Label the truth. If your child is still in preschool, it’s best to respond to him plainly with the inconsistencies in his story, said Sally Beville Hunter, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. So for example, if your child is telling you he did not eat that cookie and you see the chocolate ringing his mouth, you can say something like, “Oh, that’s strange, you have chocolate around your mouth. How did that get there? Let’s go to the mirror and look at your face.” You can keep it lighthearted, Dr. Hunter said.

Dr. Hunter cautioned that if your child is particularly anxious in temperament and would melt down at this kind of questioning, you might want to say something like: “I want to know the truth about the cookie, let’s figure this out together.”

Get to the bottom of the lie. As children reach kindergarten age, their verbal abilities increase, Dr. Poltorak said, so you want to explore why they told the lie in the first place. In the case of your child’s gothic story about his dead parents, you should ask him why he said it, and in listening to his explanation, try to pinpoint the motivation behind the lie — he could simply be craving extra attention from his teacher, but you won’t know until you have the conversation.

Once you figure out the reason, work with your child to come up with different responses to his issue that don’t involve lying. Instead of punishing the child, teaching him skills to deal with uncomfortable feelings will do more to prevent lying down the road, Dr. Poltorak said.

Praise honesty. A body of research has shown that praising children for their honesty is far more effective than punishing them for their lies. In the Times’s Sunday Review in 2018, the writer Alex Stone summarized research that Dr. Lee did with Dr. Talwar, where they told classic morality tales about honesty to a group 268 children between the ages of 3 and 7 to see if any of them actually inspired children to be more truthful.

Researchers left children alone in a room and told them not to peek at a toy. After the researchers returned, they read the children one of three stories: “Pinocchio,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “George Washington and the Cherry Tree.” (The control group was read “The Tortoise and the Hare.”) The only story that got children to be honest about peeking at the toy was “George Washington and the Cherry Tree,” wherein George admits to cutting down a cherry tree, and his father forgives him because he tells the truth when confronted. Stories showing that lying makes your nose grow (“Pinocchio”) or leads to being eaten by wolves (“The Boy Who Cried Wolf”) did not motivate truth-telling in the same way.

The moral of this story is that your kid is in the right place — acting class. His natural storytelling ability will serve him well onstage.

How to Find Yourself When You Feel Like You’ve Lost Your Way

HOW TO FIND YOURSELF WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE LOST YOUR WAY

Brett Larabie

You don’t need to be middle-aged to have a life crisis anymore. If you feel lost, read on if you need to know how to find yourself again.

If we’re honest, I’m only 23. I’ve had far more life crises than I should have at this point. It seems like on an almost daily basis, something goes wrong that makes me question everything. So, I know what it means to figure out how to find yourself again.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve changed my mind about my career. In high school, I said I was going to be a teacher. Then in my final year, college applications started to go out and I completely changed directions. I didn’t even apply to teacher’s college. I actually applied to an Environmental Science course.

Little secret? I’m graduating from Public Relations in a couple of months. That’s a bit of a jump, I suppose. I went down one path in life, and thought it was for me. Then, a year after graduation, I realized I needed to return to school because things just didn’t make sense anymore.

I was lost. I needed to find myself. Maybe you feel the same way now? We all have our moments in life when things just stop making sense. You need to find yourself, and you may need to find yourself several times in your lifetime. Find relief in the fact that this experience will happen to you again and again, but you’ll always find yourself again in the process.

How to know when you need to find yourself

Learning how to find yourself is one of the most challenging parts of life, but one of the more challenging parts is recognizing when it is necessary.

Feeling “stuck” is a sign you need a change of pace. Usually this means you strayed from who you truly are. You need to begin the task of finding yourself.

This could happen after the death of a loved one or a failed career move, or maybe after a physical move to a new city. Whatever it is, a big change in our lives often leads us to feeling lost and insecure.

The feeling is different for all of us. Once you tune into yourself and recognize that feeling, you never need to worry about it again. You immediately notice when you start to stray off your path and begin the journey to find yourself once more.

How to find yourself when you feel lost

Trust in the fact that your true self is still inside of you somewhere. They aren’t gone forever. It takes some work to find your roots, but rest assured that you will get there.

Repeat this process to find yourself time and time again but knowing who you are is something very valuable. Nobody can ever take that away from you. Never fear the process. Each time you find yourself again, you find new and exciting parts that you didn’t know existed before.

Life is all about rediscovering who you are as part of this big, wide world.

#1 Reconnect with your roots. Go back to square one, where it all began. That means something different for everybody. For me, it’s my family. Specifically, my mom. Who or what makes you feel like your truest form of yourself? This is usually where your values stem from, which, for a lot of people, means their families as well.

But for others, it could mean God, nature, an old friend, or in their childhood home. Whatever it is for you, reconnect with that piece of you.

#2 Reflect on who you are today. Would six-year-old you be proud? I know we hear this question a lot, but if you really sit down and reflect on this question, you may be surprised at the answers. Life is ever-evolving, and so are we. You will change, and that’s okay, but your roots should stay the same.

Think about who you used to be, in the purest state of your life as a child. Were you loud and confident, but now ashamed and afraid of expressing yourself? Did you use to be conservative and quiet, and now feel like you need to be obnoxious to be heard? Always revert back to six-year-old you when finding yourself.

#3 Do you enjoy spending time with yourself? You spend a lot of time with yourself in your lifetime. In fact, you are who you will spend the most time with. You should really consider this fact when you say and do things.

At the end of the day, can you sit alone in a room with yourself and enjoy the present company? If the answer is no, it’s time to find yourself, because you’ve lost your way somewhere along the line. The goal is to enjoy the quiet spaces between the busyness of life.

#4 Meditate. This is a rather eccentric idea to some, when it comes to knowing how to find yourself but it works. I’ve really seen the benefits of meditation, and it really is an excellent tool in the journey to finding your true self. If you can’t enjoy time spent with yourself, then nobody else can either.

Learn to appreciate your own thoughts and find direction through meditation. This is a great way to make life’s hardest decision seem like a walk in the park. Through meditation, you clear up the foggiest paths in your life at the present moment.

#5 Invest time in yourself. You can spend the rest of your life investing in high-profile businesses, but if you don’t invest in yourself, you will be the poorest person on earth. Again, you’re stuck with you, so you really need to make it mean something.

Take 30 minutes at the end of each day and devote it to yourself. Read a book, write in a journal, shut off your phone, drink tea, whatever you need to feel like yourself. Allow yourself to be selfish for 30 minutes each day, because we all know that the rest of the day is spent taking care of everyone around you. Maybe that’s exactly why you lost yourself in the first place—you didn’t cherish the person looking at you in the mirror.

#6 Get outside and enjoy nature. Some say that they are at their purest form when they are surrounded by nature. Leave the phone at home for one day and hit the trails. Bring your dog or a friend with you. Go for a hike, and bring a picnic with you. Go alone, or with friends, but regardless, get outside and breathe in the fresh air. It won’t do you any harm, I promise.

#7 Read self-improvement books. I know this is super 90’s, and seems like a cry for help, but there are countless books that are genuinely helpful for those who have lost their way.

There is an entire section at most book stores devoted to understanding how to find yourself. Clearly, people are buying these books! Don’t be ashamed to buy or read these books, because they could change your life.

#8 Write it out. Every counselor on the face of the planet tells you to “write about your feelings.” You probably put on a half-hearted grin and say “okay.” We both know you will write on the first page of a journal then leave it on your bedside table untouched for weeks. It’s not a popular tactic, because talking about our problems isn’t something we like to do.

If you want to truly understand how to find yourself, dig deeper. Figure out why you are lost in the first place, and writing is genuinely a wonderful way to do this. Yes, it’s hard, I’m not going to lie to you. But all things in life worth doing, aren’t easy things to do.

#9 Unplug. Technology has been a huge obstacle in our lives, let’s just be honest. Social media is crowded with negative interactions that literally drain you of your energy. It’s so easy to get lost in the online world, because we only show the world the parts of us that we genuinely like.

We lose the parts of ourselves that nobody claps for, but those are still part of us. Each and every part of us, makes us who we are. We can’t just throw away the parts we don’t like. Unplug from social media and technology in general for a little while, and completely immerse yourself in real-life conversations with people who appreciate every part of you.

#10 Make a change. I know I said that drastic life changes lead to us feeling lost, but sometimes change is what we need to pull us out of that state. If you feel like you just go through the motions then chances are you aren’t living up to your full potential. Change is a good thing, embrace it. Change might be exactly what you need to find yourself again.

#11 Call your “person.” Maybe it’s just me, but when I have a mini life crisis, I call my mom. My mom knows me best, and that’s great. Also, my mom isn’t afraid to tell me when I’m being a lunatic.

Sometimes, we freak out for nothing. We think our lives are falling apart before our eyes, when really things are falling into place. We all have that person that tells us like it is. Whoever that person is for you, call them and tell them what’s going on.

Before long, they remind you that you are a strong person who is freaking out over nothing, and everything is going to be okay. Sometimes we just need to hear that things are going to be okay.

It’s normal if you feel lost sometimes, but just remember that it is always possible to learn how to find yourself and get back to who you really are.

How to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship with Your Dignity Intact

HOW TO GET OUT OF A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR DIGNITY INTACT

Natasha Ivanovic

Learning how to get out of a toxic relationship and not go back is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Ending it isn’t as easy as you may think.

If you’re at the point where you know you need to learn how to get out of a toxic relationship, well, you overcame a huge step. But now, it’s the time to take action. Get yourself out of the relationship. But like I said before, it is easier said than done.

So, if you’re feeling stuck at this point, don’t. I have a couple ways for you to get yourself out of the relationship in a healthy way and maybe with your dignity intact. You may be leaving a toxic relationship, but you don’t want to bring that toxicity with you on your way out the door.

How to get out of a toxic relationship

I had a bad string of relationships where I just couldn’t seem to break the pattern of being with someone who didn’t respect me. Of course, it wasn’t just them. In essence, I didn’t respect myself because I allowed them to treat me this way. Now, you’ve probably received advice from people and most of them say, “just end it.” But is it that simple? Of course, it’s not.

Firstly, people with toxic partners don’t necessarily realize it until much later on in the relationship. Secondly, when you have feelings for someone, ending the relationship is hard to do even when you know it’s the right thing. Doing what’s good for you isn’t always easy. You need to end the toxicity.

#1 Accept your part in the relationship. It takes two to tango, right? What I’m trying to say is you need to accept your role in the relationship. Though you may not have done things that you think were as bad as your partner, you’re certainly not blameless.

Reflect and think about your behavior. But also make a commitment to yourself that you won’t let yourself get sucked back into an unhealthy relationship.

#2 Stop making excuses. I know it’s hard to leave a relationship. Honestly, most of us stay in unhealthy relationships because we become accustomed to them. Simply, we’re comfortable. But stop making excuses as to why you’re in the relationship. You need to ask yourself some questions. Do I want to spend time with x? Do I feel good after spending time with x? Do I genuinely like x? These are simple yet important questions to answer yourself.

#3 What are the benefits? Even the shitty relationships have some benefits. There’s a reason why you’re staying with this person. Now, you need to figure out what those reasons are before you try figuring out how to get out of a toxic relationship. Maybe they make you feel attractive or is a good parent towards your children. There are reasons why we stay with people who are inherently bad for us. Figure out what those reasons are.

#4 Fill those benefits. You’re staying with this person for specific reasons, right? But you do know that they’re not the only person that can provide you with those benefits. You have the power to give those positive feelings to yourself. This is where self-reflection and self-love come in. Find alternative ways to make yourself feel whole.

#5 Stop all contact. Yes, I know, this is going to be really hard. But you have to do this. If you really want out of the relationship, then be very strict regarding the contact you have with your ex. If you have children with them, then you’ll have to have contact, but keep it at a minimum. If you’re single, well, then just cut them out, and do it cold turkey.

#6 Surround yourself with love. You need to make sure you’re surrounded by a strong support system that loves you. This will help you when you’re experiencing hard moments after leaving your toxic relationship. When you’re surrounded with support, the likelihood of going back to them reduces. You’re able to start living a healthy life.

#7 Remember your value. Through all of this, remember who you are and what you’re worth. It’s easy to go back to a toxic relationship when you forget what you’re worth. To leave a toxic relationship, you need to always remember what you can offer and who you are.

Of course, you’re going to have moments where you’re going to miss your ex, but just because you miss them doesn’t mean they were good for you.

#8 Focus on your emotional states. You’re probably going through various emotions. One day you’re sad, the other you’re angry. This is all normal when you’re planning on leaving a relationship. But you need to be able to recognize the emotion and where it’s coming from. That way, you understand your feelings in hopes of being able to express them openly.

#9 Express your feelings. You still may be with your partner or just recently broke up with them. Whatever state your relationship is in, it’s important to express your feelings. If you avoid expressing your emotions, they’ll build up and you’ll resent your partner. If you want to leave the relationship in a positive way, repressing your feelings won’t help you.

#10 You’re going to go through self-healing. As much as we try to push these feelings down, many of the adult problems we suffer from are due to childhood trauma. Now, rid yourself of the shame that we have when leaving a toxic relationship, dig down deep within yourself.

Look at what brought you to get involved in a toxic relationship. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the answer.

#11 Forgive your ex. This isn’t for them, this is for you. If you want to fully move on from your partner and leave the relationship, then you need to forgive them and their part of the relationship. If you’re holding feelings of anger, sadness, or regret, then you’re only going to hurt yourself. In order to completely leave the relationship, you’ll have to let go. Otherwise, you’ll still mentally be connected to them.Now that you know how to get out of a toxic relationship, what are you waiting for? It’s time to move onto something healthy and new.

What Is a Toxic Relationship? 16 Signs to Recognize It and Get Out

WHAT IS A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP? 16 SIGNS TO RECOGNIZE IT AND GET OUT

Natasha Ivanovic

The person you thought would be your partner is slowly becoming your worst nightmare. It is time to stop wondering what a toxic relationship is and get out.

I would love to say that I’ve no personal experience to answer the ‘what is a toxic relationship’ question and that all my previous dating experiences have been a walk in the park. Of course, that would be lying. In reality, I come from a long history of failed relationships—most of them toxic.

Either the guy was using me, manipulating or degrading me, or my self-esteem was so low that I chose to stick around. Those were definitely dark times.

In those moments, it’s hard to think about what you deserve and how to get it. If anything, you assume this is the best you’re going to get. That’s really the saddest part. You settle.

16 answers to the question: What is a toxic relationship?

In my first serious relationship, I dated someone who you would call a verbally abusive alcoholic. In the beginning, it was fun, but there were clear warning signs I ignored. And trust me, there are always signs. The only difference is whether you’re paying attention to them or not. And this just gets worse if you’re not sure what a toxic relationship is in the first place.

No matter how much you love your partner, keep your eyes open for the signs. If not, you run the risk of losing yourself. Coming back to your normal self isn’t easy. If you’re not sure what is a toxic relationship or what it looks like, well, here are the signs to help you figure it out.

Not all relationships are healthy ones.

#1 Passive aggressive. I think we’re all guilty of being passive-aggressive at times. It’s not easy talking openly about your feelings and emotions. But if passive-aggression is their middle name, it’s time to take a second look at your relationship. Not talking about your feelings is a sign of immaturity, and can lead down a dangerous road.

#2 Jealousy. A little bit of jealousy isn’t necessarily bad. Unfortunately, the line is very thin, and people assume excessive jealousy as a positive trait. If you can’t leave the house without them becoming jealous, or if they’re searching your phone for an incriminating text or picture, you’re in trouble.

#3 The blame game. I’m all too familiar with the blame game. My ex would give me percentages of how much I’m to blame versus him. Can you believe it? Natasha, in this fight, you’re 80% to blame; I’m 20%. If your partner never takes responsibility for their actions and blames everything on you, that’s toxicity at its best.

#4 Avoidance. You basically tolerate each other’s presence, which is pretty messed up considering you’re in a relationship. What will happen if you get married? You won’t spend time with your spouse? Avoidance is the first sign that the relationship has run its course.

#5 You don’t feel like yourself. You can’t make the jokes you’d normally make or watch TV without feeling like you’re doing something wrong. And you’re not doing anything wrong; you’re yourself. But if your partner doesn’t appreciate who you are, they’ll try to change you. And this is what’s happening.

#6 Arguing. It’s normal for couples to argue. Don’t think because you argue you’re in a toxic relationship. But there’s a difference between arguing and communicating and straight-up yelling without any resolution. If they’re just yelling at you, it’s not going to get anywhere.

#7 Negative vibes. People underestimate the power of energy. Every animal on this earth is made up of energy. If you’re constantly feeling uncomfortable or anxious around your partner, there’s a reason why. You’re reacting to the energy they’re giving out. Negative energy emotionally drains you and breaks you down.

#8 You only make them happy. When you’re with your partner, they don’t care about your happiness. Instead, you spend most of your time trying to please them. You eat what they want, do what they want; you’re basically their personal slave. They don’t ask you how your day was or what you’d like to do.

#9 You can’t grow. When someone grows in a relationship, that’s a positive thing. You want your partner to grow and develop, and you want to do the same. If you want more, but your partner likes things the way they are, well, that’s not good. They’re holding you back from achieving your life goals because they don’t want to develop.

#10 You don’t feel like fighting for the relationship. When two people love each other, they’ll go above and beyond to make things work. They will fight as hard as they can for the relationship. But with you, you stopped caring a long time ago and so did your partner. You feel like there’s no point; the relationship isn’t going anywhere.

#11 You’re not happy. When was the last time you laughed with your partner? When was the last time you felt really happy by their side? You’ll know when you’re in a toxic relationship because you won’t be happy anymore. Something inside of you is telling you to move on for a reason.

#12 The drama never ends. But really, it never ends. Every day there’s something wrong in their life, and it’s usually around something you did wrong, even if you did nothing! They live for the drama because it distracts them from their own failures.

#13 You never do anything right. At least in their eyes. Everything you do comes with criticism and loads of it. At the end of the day, you feel like a complete failure and unworthy of their love. But that’s not true. They’re not worthy of your love and affection since they don’t appreciate it.

#14 You feel like the worst version of you. When you’re with someone you love, they usually bring out the best in you. And that’s when you know you’re with the right person. But if you’re becoming someone you don’t recognize, you need to think hard about your relationship. Is this really someone you want to be with?

#15 Your friends and family don’t like them. Listen, I know you don’t want people to dislike someone you chose to be with, but sometimes your friends and family are right. If they tell you that you’ve changed and your partner is toxic, listen. Your friends and family love you and want the best for you.

#16 They’re stuck in the past. Instead of thinking about their future with you, they constantly remind you about the past. “The good times you had,” runs out of their mouth often, and it makes you wonder if they’re enjoying the relationship now. But they’re not; they’re stuck in the past.

After reading the signs, what do you think? Can you answer what is a toxic relationship? If you feel that you are in one, it’s time for you to make a change.

Choose a Partner You Can Be Playful With

CHOOSE A PARTNER YOU CAN BE PLAYFUL WITH

Hannah Eaton

As children, many of us were encouraged to play and create as we took in the novel world around us with a sense of wonder and awe. Our playful and frolicsome spirits were often celebrated, delighting caregivers and strangers alike and bringing a bit more joy into their worlds.

As we grow older, more often than not, we are encouraged to subdue playful tendencies and to replace them with a more serious and professional air, as we strive to have it all figured out. We are discouraged from climbing trees, swinging on monkey bars, building sand castles, messily finger painting nonsensical artwork, or dancing freely when the music moves us. Our culture conditions us that publicly pursuing childlike activities may run the risk of appearing foolish or unprofessional. We are taught that you only dance when it is appropriate, like during dance classes, in a club, or at a wedding.

And yet, deep down, I believe we all yearn to experience that deep sense of joy and delight we often see on the faces of young children, when they are creatively playing, or dancing freely anywhere they hear music.

I can’t help but to think back to a conversation I had with my dad as a senior in high school, as I was preparing to leave for college the following year. “Life will be really difficult at times,” he said, “which is why it is so important to choose a partner who can be playful with you, and will make you laugh. This element of our marriage has brought your mother and me through some difficult seasons.” While my life had not been all that difficult up to that point, I was fully aware that my father had experienced many family tragedies, so I must have ingrained these words deep into my subconscious.

As an “adult,” I have been fortunate to find a partner who embraces this sense of playfulness in our relationship. Through the inevitable ups and downs of our relationship thus far, we have understood the value of pursuing some “childlike” characteristics. We seek to see the world with a beginner’s mind, delighting together in the novelties of everyday life. We pursue activities that are playful and nourishing to our minds, bodies, and spirits, deliberately encouraging one another that “it doesn’t matter if people give us weird looks.” We support one another by fostering the artists within each other, even if that involves exploring means of creative expression which don’t fit the traditional box of “art.”

Dancing together has been one such powerful means to help cultivate this culture of novelty, play, and creativity in our marriage.

Novelty, or the Beginner’s Mind

In going through the grinds of daily life and the inevitable high and low seasons, it is healthy and nourishing to find new, shared activities as a couple. As children, there is excitement in the abundant novelties we are surrounded by, but as we get older and may feel we have a better understanding of the world around us, we may lose some of our ability to see the world and our experiences from a beginner’s mind.

However, there is great power and potential in strengthening your beginner’s mind as you seek out novel experiences as a couple, or engage in familiar experiences with a fresh set of eyes. Dancing can do this naturally, as every step is a new, endless opportunity.

Research has shown that engaging in novel experiences as a couple activates the brain’s reward system, which can produce favorable benefits for couples. Dr. Arthur Aron and his colleagues conducted experiments and revealed that couples who go on “exciting” and novel date nights, or engage in fun and challenging activities, have higher relationship satisfaction. Such novel experiences release dopamine and norepinephrine, the same chemicals which are released during early romantic courtship.

As a couple, one of the beautiful and powerful elements of dancing with your partner is that you have the opportunity to continually experience novelty together as you learn more about dance in general, and your unique dance as partners. This process can help deepen your friendship and sense of shared meaning, both of which Drs. John and Julie Gottman indicate are key to happy and healthy relationships.

Play, or Twistin’ and Groovin’

As you engage in new experiences or forms of dance as a couple, it gives you abundant opportunities to play and explore with a sense of wonder. During our dance lessons at Flow Studios, we learn new techniques or concepts each week, and then we are given the freedom to play with the ideas and one another as we make the dance our own.

During a recent lesson, our dance teacher, Michael, encouraged us to bring out more of our playful sides. “I want to see you flirting with each other more!” he shouted over the music.

After a long, somewhat stressful day, this type of playful connection is just what I needed. As we began to “flirt” and playfully explore our movements together, I could feel any remaining stress and worries melt away.

Throughout our dance, we continued to make bids for this type of playful and joyful connection, and we had abundant opportunities to choose to turn toward one another in a spirit of childlike play. We may have looked somewhat foolish as we giggled and ruthlessly spun one another in circles, but these types of playful interactions are endlessly freeing.

In recognizing the joy and freedom that comes from dancing, we have been purposeful to take this type of playful connection outside of the dance studio and to move together wherever the music moves us. While our bodies may feel the urge to dance when we hear fun music, we have had to train our brains to let them know that it’s okay, and actually liberating, to dance like children in public at city parks or on the beach.

Creativity, or the Blank Canvas

Dancing as a couple also opens you to a world of endless creative possibilities. Your dance, like your relationship, is unique and an ever-unfolding artistic process. The dance floor is your blank canvas, and you, as a couple, are artists purposefully collaborating and creating something that has never been done before.

This creative process is one you can choose to explore and embrace as a couple. It does not have to be perfect, flashy, or entirely graceful like the dancers we see on “So You Think You Can Dance,” or “Dancing with the Stars.” In fact, your dance may never be so polished. But if you can let go of the notion that art is “over there” (in museums, on TV, on stages), you may begin to see yourself and your partner in this artistic light.

Instead, you can choose to recognize that moving together through space, moment by moment, is a continuously exploratory form of artistic expression as a couple. You can purposefully move across the dance floor or in public parks or, really, anywhere for the sake of creating and pursuing beauty together.

When we shift our perception of art, we have limitless opportunities to create together.

Since we have been taking dance lessons, it has provided us the weekly opportunity to pursue and strengthen a culture of novelty, play, and creativity in our marriage. We eagerly look forward to those evenings where we purposefully let go of the expectations and pressures, learn new tools to navigate life together with creative beauty, and literally alter our brain chemistry for the better.

And, as a bonus, we get to dance.

Couples Who Play Together, Stay in Love Together

COUPLES WHO PLAY TOGETHER, STAY IN LOVE TOGETHER

Kyle Benson

I want you to meet Mr. Rubber Ducky and Mrs. Fabulous Flamingo.

Play is the air that keeps their love inflated.

Without it, both partners would deflate emotionally and feel stuck in a flat relationship.

Dr. Gottman’s research states that 70% of a relationship’s satisfaction is determined by the couple’s friendship. This is true for both men and women.

The couples who found ways to play together at every stage of their relationship stayed together. The couples who didn’t eventually separated or endured an unhappy relationship.

Play makes emotional connection easy and enjoyable. It invites both partners to open up emotionally. Play is a form of intimacy, because it requires an intimate knowledge of your partner’s inner world. A playful friendship with one another creates a strong relationship.

Maybe you grew up struggling with the concept of play. I know I did. I always felt that it came second to winning prizes or achievements.

Your play style is a reflection of the emotional security you were offered as a kid. It remains true for adults. Couples who create an emotionally secure relationship are often more playful than insecure couples.

Couples who lack trust or commitment tend to be kidnapped by their insecurities, thus blocking the part of the brain that activates play.

Learning to play well with each other is also what helps us fight well. Stan Tatkin, PsyD states that “secure couples know that a good fight stays within the play zone.” In other words, the conflict isn’t allowed to get nasty. Since both partners are committed to each other for the long haul, they are able to keep their walls down.

Part of cultivating an Intentionally Intimate Relationship is creating a culture of play.

Here are 3 Ways to Increase Play in Your Relationship:

#1 Try New and Unfamiliar Activities: Psychologist Arthur Aron recruited 53 middle-aged couples to study novelty and boredom in long-term relationships. The couples were asked to do one of three things: (1) engage in activities that were familiar and enjoyable, (2) change nothing about their routine, or (3) to find something new to do together.

After ten weeks, who do you think had a better relationship?

You’re correct!

The couples who did new and unfamiliar activities had a much higher satisfaction in their relationship than the couples who spent their time doing familiar things.

Here are some ideas for you:

  • Take a walk in a different part of town or venture to a new park together.
  • Visit a new restaurant in town.
  • Try a new activity such as indoor rock climbing, roller skating, bowling, or mini golf.
  • Take a day trip. Get in the car and drive. Stop whenever you feel like getting out and exploring.

#2 Reinvent Date Night: My partner and I recently tried a date night box called “Night in Boxes.” The theme was called “blind date.” We were asked to create an obstacle course, and then lead our blindfolded partner through the course using only verbal instructions.

It was a great way to connect and be playful with one another without leaving the comfort of our home. I highly recommend it!

Here are some other ideas:

  • Get dressed up and take a class together, such as salsa dancing, or a paint and wine workshop
  • Bike to a coffee shop to sip warm drinks and chat
  • Take a tour in your hometown that you’ve never been on

#3 Participate in the 7-Day Emotional Connection Challenge: I’m taking a select group of couples on an exciting seven-day virtual adventure—but in the comfort of their own home. Get ready to reconnect with your partner in a very playful way! Check your email tomorrow for more details.

Play is essential to making love last. It is created by both partners and requires intentionality as an adult, since it might not come as naturally as it once did when we were children. Like scheduling sex and date night, we need to schedule time for play, exploration, and adventures. These activities revitalize our love life and deepen our emotional connection.

Without play, partners tend to drift apart from each other, making it impossible to sustain emotional intimacy.

To prevent this, Mr. Rubber Ducky and Mrs. Fabulous Flamingo tether to each other with a long rope. That way if they drift too far apart, they can intentionally pull each other closer and reconnect through playful activities and adventures. Shouldn’t you do the same?

7 Assumptions We Need to Stop Making About Other People

7 ASSUMPTIONS WE NEED TO STOP MAKING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE

Marc Chernoff

Never underestimate a person’s challenges. Everyone is struggling. Some are just better at hiding it than others.

Too often we judge people too quickly, or too subjectively. We tell ourselves stories about them without thinking it through—our perceptions and biases get the best of us. I was reminded of this today when I received the following in an email (I’m sharing this with permission):

“…I learned the hard way that a smile can hide so much—that when you look at a person you never know what their story is or what’s truly going on in their life. This harsh reality became evident to me this morning when I found out one of my top students—always straight A’s, a positive attitude, and a smile on her face—died by suicide last night. Why? Nobody seems to know. And it’s killing me inside.”

Talk about a reality check, right?

What we tell ourselves about others—what we think we know—is often far from the truth.

And with that in mind, I’m sitting here reflecting on all the little things we have to stop assuming about other people, for their sake and ours…

  1. We need to stop assuming that the happiest people are simply the ones who smile the most. – Behind the polite smiles and greetings people give you, some are hurting and lonely. Don’t just come and go. See them. Care. Share. Listen. Love. We can’t always see people’s pain, but they can always feel our kindness. So be kinder than necessary.
  2. We need to stop assuming that the people we love and respect won’t disappoint us. – When we expect perfection we tend to overlook goodness. And the truth is, no one is perfect. At times, the confident lose confidence, the patient misplace their patience, the generous act selfish, and the informed second-guess what they know. It happens to all of us too. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, and we get caught off guard. We stumble, we slip, and we fall sometimes. But that’s the worst of it… we have our moments. Most of the time we’re pretty darn good, despite our flaws. So treat the people you love accordingly—give them the space to be human.
  3. We need to stop assuming that the people who are doing things differently are doing things wrong. – We all take different roads seeking fulfillment, joy, and success. Just because someone isn’t on your road, doesn’t mean they are lost.
  4. We need to stop assuming that the people we disagree with don’t deserve our compassion and kindness. – The exact opposite is true. The way we treat people we strongly disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about love, compassion, kindness and humility. 
  5. We need to stop assuming that we can’t trust people we don’t know. – Some people build too many walls in their lives and not enough bridges. Don’t be one of them. Open yourself up. Take small chances on people. Let them prove your doubts wrong, gradually, over time.
  6. We need to stop assuming that the rude people of the world are personally targeting us. – We can’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of us. They do things because of them. And there is a huge amount of freedom that comes to us when we detach from other people’s behaviors. So just remember, the way others treat you is their problem, how you react is yours.
  7. We need to stop assuming that other people are our reason for being unhappy, unsuccessful, etc. – We may not be able control all the things people say and do to us, but we can decide not to be reduced by them. We can choose to forgive, or we can choose to forget. We can choose to stay, or we can choose to go. We can choose whatever helps us grow. There’s always a positive choice to make. Thus, the only real, lasting conflict you will ever have in your life won’t be with others, but with yourself… and how you choose to respond… and the daily rituals you choose to follow. 

Dealing with People Who Deeply Offend Us

Some of the points above (like numbers 4 and 6 for example) potentially require a willingness to cordially deal with people who yell at us, interrupt us, cut us off in traffic, talk about terribly distasteful things, and so forth.

These people violate the way we think people should behave. And sometimes their behavior deeply offends us.

But if we let these people get to us, again and again, we will be upset and offended far too often.

So what can we do?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but here are two strategies Angel and I often recommend:

  • Be bigger, think bigger. – Imagine a two-year-old who doesn’t get what she wants at this moment. She throws a temper tantrum! This small, momentary problem is enormous in her little mind because she lacks perspective on the situation. But as adults, we know better. We realize that there are dozens of other things that 2-year-old could do to be happy. Sure, that’s easy for us to say—we have a bigger perspective, right? But when someone offends us, we suddenly have a little perspective again—this small, momentary offense seems enormous, and it makes us want to scream. We throw the equivalent of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum. However, if we think bigger, we can see that this small thing matters very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s not worth our energy. So always remind yourself to be bigger, think bigger, and broaden your perspective.
  • Mentally hug them and wish them better days. – This little trick can positively change the way we see people who offend us. Let’s say someone has just said something unpleasant to us. How dare they! Who do they think they are? They have no consideration for our feelings! But of course, with a heated reaction like this, we’re not having any consideration for their feelings either—they may be suffering inside in unimaginable ways. By remembering this, we can try to show them empathy, and realize that their behavior is likely driven by some kind of inner pain. They are being unpleasant as a coping mechanism for their pain. And so, mentally, we can give them a hug. We can have compassion for this broken person, because we all have been broken and in pain at some point too. We’re the same in many ways. Sometimes we need a hug, some extra compassion, and a little unexpected love.

Try one of these strategies the next time someone offends you. And then smile and breathe, armed with the comforting knowledge that there’s no reason to let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t.

Your turn…

How have your judgments and expectations of others affected your life and relationships?

5 Tips to Stress-Proof Your Marriage This Holiday Season

5 TIPS TO STRESS-PROOF YOUR MARRIAGE THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Kyle Benson

When I was a kid, I was giddy when the holiday season came around. I opened presents, ate candy canes, and snuggled with my dogs near the fireplace.

But as an adult, the holidays come with a fair amount of stress. I found there was less fun and more planning, like how you’re going to visit family, what food you’re going to cook, saving money for gifts, going shopping, and so much more.

It’s not uncommon for couples to feel overwhelmed or disconnected during the holiday season, especially if one or both partners feel triggered by certain events. The added stress can create tension and highlight relationship difficulties during a time when it is important to stay connected and feel loved.

But there is a better way through the holiday season, which is getting through it together.

Having a plan and sticking to it is one of the most effective ways to eliminate stress and spend more time having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Take the Stress out of Holiday Preparations and Decisions

The holiday season can leave a partner feeling unappreciated or resentful for doing all the shopping and cooking, or it can lead to another partner feeling pressured into doing things their partner’s way. But the holidays are a time to come together as a team and create a sense of balance. Try to follow this template toward creating a holiday plan:

1. List out all the chores and responsibilities that require attention. This will give you an objective view for determining who should be in charge of what.

2. Add three columns to the list: one for you, one for your partner, and one for both of you.

3. Read the list together. Talk about each other’s perception of how holiday responsibilities were handled in the past, and discuss how you would like them handled this year.

4. Go through the items that are easy to assign this year and choose who is responsible (you, your partner, or both), check the appropriate task and partner on the list, and set aside the tasks that may need to be talked through for later.

5. For the items you didn’t assign, take the time to ask each other open-ended questions about the task and the difficulties associated with it. Truly listen to what your partner likes and doesn’t like, which is an opportunity to learn something new about your partner and their preferences and concerns.

Then, after both partners feel understood, determine how you’d like to proceed this year, and compromise when needed so that both of you feel comfortable with your plans. You can cover a lot of different kinds of tasks, including cooking and cleaning duties, shopping, travel plans, and holiday traditions that you’d both like to include in your festivities.

ListPartner A’s ListPartner B’s ListTogether List
Warping gifts X 12/22/17
Organizing the grocery list X 12/21/17
Call family & see who is bringing what for dinner X 12/22/17

The goal here is to find win-win solutions that put your partner’s needs on par with your own. Your partner may agree with you or may suggest something else.

Sometimes you may have to do a task together, but that can be helpful if both of you don’t enjoy something that still needs to get done.

Work together to find a solution for this year that satisfies both of your needs. Then decide who is responsible, assign the task, and note the date that it needs to be completed by.

Now you have a better idea of who does what and when, which should already relieve a great deal of stress.

Dr. John Gottman’s research discovered that a purely equal division of tasks isn’t what matters (keeping score can lead to resentment), but instead that each partner feels like responsibilities are balanced. And, of course, modify plans if necessary. If your partner feels overwhelmed, then see if you can help out by taking on some of their tasks, and remember to support each other.

De-stress with Your Spouse

Throughout the holidays, try to take time to have a Stress-Reducing Conversation, which allows you talk about your stressful feelings and thoughts without actually discussing your marriage or any issues you may have with your partner.

Ask some open-ended questions about how they’re feeling this holiday season, but don’t try to problem solve. Instead, truly listen to your partner’s concerns and express empathy.

If you have this conversation every day this season, it can’t help but make your spirits bright.

Verbalize Appreciations

Another way to relieve stress is to offer compliments, gratitude, and appreciation to your partner, which can help your partner stay connected to you.

Make an extra effort to notice the small things your partner does such as grocery shopping, wrapping gifts, taking out the trash, or making time for just you, and verbalize your appreciation. Small acts of gratitude will help uplift your spirits.

If you cultivate an attitude of gratitude around your partner and loved ones during the holidays, everyone should feel more comfortable, appreciated, and emotionally satisfied.

Do the Small Things Often

As Liz Higgins reminds us, “Marriage is Not a Big Thing, It’s a Million Little Things.”

Take a few moments this holiday season and plan three little surprises for your spouse. This could be:

  • A short and sweet love note slipped into their wallet or purse
  • Filling up a hot bath for them to relax in at after a long stressful day (bonus if you join)
  • Dance to holiday music in your home

Take Time to Connect with Your Partner

Most importantly, try to schedule some time for just you and your partner to connect. It may be difficult to get away from family and friends during a busy holiday season, but making intentional efforts to spend a few hours or an evening together will help you feel more loved and stress-free.

Maybe you:

  • Sneak off to give each other a quick massage.
  • Find a mistletoe to passionately kiss under
  • Give each other personalized gifts before the holiday.
  • Snuggle while watching a holiday movie
  • Hold hands while taking an evening walk

If you follow these tips throughout the holiday season, it may bring you closer to feeling that sense of fun, excitement, and wonder that I once felt as a kid. While planning isn’t as fun as decorating and opening gifts, having a solid plan you can rely on enables you and your partner to spend less time stressing and more time enjoying the holiday season.

Time With Our Children

TIME WITH OUR CHILDREN

A primary school teacher asked her pupils to write an essay on ‘A wish you want from God?’ At the end of the day, the teacher collected all the essays written by her pupils. She took them to her house, sat down and started marking.

While marking the essays, she sees a strange essay written by one of her pupils. That essay made her very emotional. Her husband came and sat beside her and saw her crying.

The husband asked her, “What happened? What’s making you cry?”

She answered, “Read this. It is an essay written by one of my pupils.”

The pupil had written: “Oh God, make me a television. I want to live like the TV in my house. In my house, the TV is very valuable. All of my family members sit around it. They are very interested in it. When the TV is talking, my parents listen to it very happily. They don’t shout at the TV. They don’t quarrel with the TV. They don’t slap the TV. So I want to become a TV. The TV is the center of attraction in my house. I want to receive the same special care that the TV receives from my parents.

“Even when it is not working, the TV has a lot of value. When my dad and mom come home, they immediately sit in front of the TV, switch it on and spend hours watching it. The TV is stealing the time of my dad and my mom. If I become a TV, then they will spend their time with me.

“While watching the TV, my parents laugh a lot and they smile many times. But I want my parents to laugh and smile with me also. So please God make me a TV.

“And last but not the least, if I become a TV, surely I can make my parents happy and entertain them. Lord I won’t ask you for anything more. I just want to live like a TV. Please turn me to a TV.”

The husband completed reading the essay and said, “My God, poor kid. He feels lonely. He does not receive enough love and care from his parents. His parents are horrible!”

The eyes of the primary school teacher filled with tears. She looked at her husband and said, “Our son wrote that essay!”

What do you think of this boy’s essay?

Nothing I Do is Good Enough for My Partner

NOTHING I DO IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR MY PARTNER

Patricia Cochran

Relationships often start with plenty of demonstrations of affection and appreciation for one another. There is a sense of “this person gets me and accepts me for who I am”. The infatuation makes you want to attend to even the silliest requests from your partner. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, your partners request feels like demands that can’t be met. You feel confused and hurt that no matter what you do it’s never good enough to please them.

At first you chalk it up to some stress that has been going on in your lives. Soon you realize that your partner is constantly criticizing and blaming you. And things like this happen:

5 Things a Hard to Please Person Does

There is always an “if you just…then I would…” bargaining/ blaming statement happening. The bargaining portion serves the purpose of pretending you have a choice in behavior – you can do this or have the consequences. The blaming serves to keep you responsible for their behavior and entitlement. Their frustration that something isn’t to their liking is usually your fault for not following “the correct steps”. It is a trap that you constantly fall into because you want to “get it right”.

Their expectation can’t ever be achieved. Even when you do what they want the response is that you didn’t do exactly how they wanted, you took too long or you have to do more now. The standards are constantly changing. They might take over the task without letting you try, which causes insecurity and resentment for you.

You feel invalidated in your feelings and needs. If you express disagreement or disappointment you are met with “I didn’t mean it that way, so you shouldn’t feel that way.”

Every argument ends with you giving up and letting them have their way as if it was a game they need to win.

They compare the relationship and/or you to their ideal model. This idealization might come from someone in their lives (parents, former partner) or from beliefs about relationships. In any case you always lose since you’ll never be as good as their vision.

Now that you can safely identify that your partner can’t be pleased you are left with a question: Why? You have been blamed for their dissatisfaction for so long that it is hard to imagine other reasons for such mind games and control. Before you lose all hope of happiness it can be helpful to understand why.

The possible reasons:

High anxiety: Your partner could have a high level of anxiety that is alleviated through taking control of situations and people – especially you. Notice that you are not the only target of their criticism. There is a constant hyper-vigilance about what is going on around them and how they need to make it right. People with high anxiety are very critical of themselves as well as others. The dissatisfaction is due to a high standard that basically no one can achieve for being so idealized. There is a belief that anything and everything can always be better than it is.

“Your partner could have a high level of anxiety that is alleviated through taking control of situations and people – especially you.”

The world is unsafe: Critical people might have learned that the world is unsafe and you must be always on the offense and defense to not get hurt. The critical and controlling behaviors are to keep them with the upper hand in life. In this case you will notice a “winning behavior” – a need to be always right and “win” arguments no matter what.

Resentment: Something might have happened in the relationship that triggered the dissatisfaction. Your partner has resentments towards you that they neither express nor let go. This is a passive-aggressive (though it feels very aggressive to you) way of dealing with conflict that has to be addressed.

Role models:  Dysfunctional role models of what a relationship looks like can cause your spouse to not know how else to interact with you. Experiencing negative role models also has a side-effect of leading him or her to try and maintain control of the relationship so they are not hurt like their parents.

Finally, we get to the part that concerns you: What can you do about it? Resolving conflict always takes both partners engaging in the work. You also have responsibility to change the situation.

What you can do about it:

Accept that you have responsibility: You have been reinforcing this behavior by trying to please your spouse at any cost. Every time you give in and do what they want you are sending the message that it is OK to hurt you that way. However, responsibility doesn’t mean blame. It is not your fault that your partner became critical and possibly abusive. Accept that you have been enabling the behavior and use the knowledge to change interactions.

Set reasonable boundaries: It is OK for partners to make requests, but not demands. Set a boundary of what you are willing to work with your partner and how you expect to be asked to attend to their needs. Don’t allow name calling, shaming or invalidation of your feelings. If needed take time out to cool off and re-engage in discussion later.